Back in December at Christmas, I found myself inhaling the flawed, but welcomed kranky label history, “You’re With Stupid.” I also found myself immediately making the fawed, but welcome decision to drop dozens of dollars on single digit Kranky catalog titles. You can guess which ones. Actually, you don’t really need to guess which ones: they were Roy Montgomery stuff. I’ve been sort of meaning to finally acquire Dadamah for awhile and spend time with Temple IV, both years removed from cursory radio show plays and an acknowledgement of merit. These releases are haunting and due to their enigmatic fidelity set-ups, practically caught in amber. They are “timeless” recordings that evade easy carbon dating and lucid logic; melodies and nosies that buzz around your head and enact an ancient set of pleasure receptors.
I felt this again recently when I finally turned over to a couple Blue Tapes releases that have been taking up rack space and haven’t been spun in the hi-fi. Blue Tapes is currently up to blue forty-six, but I’m always about half a dozen or so behind, and for good reason: their releases are pretty much timeless and absolute aesthetic gems. If there’s a strength to Blue Tapes’ design rigidity and lack of side delineations, its that the tunes genuinely seem to be reaching out of a linear understanding of music and diving back under the floorboards for transmissions caught in amber just like Montgomery’s guitar work.
Of course, not all of them are going to be guitar or drone. Although, The All Golden’s blue forty-one cassette is! And such a tape is one of the tastiest treats the label has quietly snuck out into the world. Having arrived at the start of December 2021, it was meant to lay dormant and now only be considered now, unfrozen in this moment. And for good reason: this tape is a compilation of tunes 1992-2021.
But what kind of tunes? The work of Pete Gofton of the All Golden, his demos that have been circling various private 4-tracks over the course of those 3ish decades; perhaps originally etched with the name Johhny X. These are the kinds of demos that sound like Dadamah, but with a greater rhythmic pulse instead of a stoned drone, amongst a beckoning lurching omnibus sound of melancholy; when they’re not that they have a rocking stomp n’ swagger to their tone, but still awash in wah-wahs and echoes of voice, not vocals. Bristol psychedelia might be nodded towards, but never outright worshipped. These instrumentals were meant to be filed away and only found now to be overdubbed and finally given the final touches that decades away from time seem to provide.
That is to say, blue forty-one is a genuinely moving set of somber instrumentals that seem to exist in a temporally unstuck sphere; one foot in a bedroom on a 4-track in the 90s and one foot in another room in the 2020s (perhaps on a DAW or the another 4-track?). A momentary lapse of time to color the recordings more completely. It is time well spent away from the project. These 8 recordings are brevity-laden affairs, recorded all those moons ago and finally given the dub-overs and final touches that only seem to reveal themselves eons later. The fidelity of these recordings do feel novel, seamlessly integrating a lifetime of advancements into soundscapes that only existed as sketches; what you hear underneath are those years talking to each other and coming into a sound that catches somewhere between anything Projekt was putting out in the mid 90s and the stray private press CDs of today’s landscape.
“Suzie Sees a Butterfly” is one of the clearest examples of this, a hypnotic guitar chord looping as a droning reverberation underneath stretches out into a near-3 minute rush. It’s one of the longer cuts on the release, with only two stretching above the three minute mark. And that makes the slightness of these songs all the more entrancing. Gofton’s ability to mend such esoteric sketches that could have withered into these ghostly aberrations is deeply touching. When he takes to the microphone on Side B’s Thabks, it feels like a private admission meant to stay put, as his voice fights against a low feedback drone as the washed out jangle makes me think of a sudden downpour waiting to come through the clouds.
Pro-dubbed cassette with all-over onbody printing in maltese-cross packaging available at the Blue Tapes Bandcamp
Virgin Flower – Absence of Essence (Popnihil) Eniks Cave – Seven Heavenly Palaces (Drongo) Tim Gick – Body Without Organs (No Rent) Morgan Garrett – Extreme Fantasy (Orange Milk) The Electric Nature – Old World Die Must (Null Zone/Feeding Tube) Davide Cedolin – Ligurian Pastoral (Island House) Heejin Jang – Me and the Glassbirds (Doom Trip) Sensational x The Dirty Sample – The Spot Rocker (Hand’Solo Records) Chikiss – Something Natural (Crash Symbols) Swamp Horse – Melted Gem (905 Tapes) Dan of Earth – FTAM-100 comp (FTAM Productions)
Last year, Jordan Reyes, the American Dreamer now in Paris, was offering contact and information to talk shop with Lia Kohl. You may know Kohl as the noted cello maestro, the one that appears across a galaxy of recordings that span from string tracks across Circuit des Yeux and claire rousay to kinetic, intrinsic improvisations with Macie Stewart (just to name a few). It was all but hinted that Kohl was to have a release on American Dreams, albeit one that would reveal itself a year down the line. In that time, I did have a chance to co-interview Lia Kohl and she left both me and my co-host an exceptional parting gift: a remote-performance that metaphorically took us back to the thick of 2020. We hadn’t expected such a thing in all honesty, but it was a colossal leap and new aesthetic MO for the Chicago polyglot. In the performance, strings were ancillary to the trawling of the megahertz; her dedication towards the integration of radio sounds across cello drone and feedback loops was invoking a most tantalizing, alloy-tinged sound bath. Her toolkit that included midi processing of the cello created broken, jagged translations of the instrument that recontextualized the radio and the cello as fuzzy transmissions.
Needless to say, while not reviewed for the site, I did take a keen liking to Too Small to Be a Plain. The tape released last year is though a mere stopgap; a selection of six tracks of midi processing and solo loops, on top of found recordings, that create nocturnal ambience and small scale rumbles. All six pieces suggested something larger, something akin to that shock remote performance. Finally, we have successor to these small scale endeavors! The Ceiling Repose has arrived in March of 2023 on American Dreams, a label that has oft maneuvered vinyl delays and a move one continent to the east. Reyes has emphasized that because of these delays, American Dreams releases represent a vision from fall 2021 to spring 2022; there is a set cue for what’s to come, and that might be all that is set. Reyes has hinted at a a recontextualization what this label means for the artist and network he’s built over the past few years. Although the truth is that the American Dreams vision has been joyously out-of-time. The Ceiling Repose arrives now, as out of time as it was if it arrived in 2021 or in 2024. And perhaps because the times have called for it (or because American Dreams knows I will buy it), there is a tape for a single $20 (+ nominal fees).
The Ceiling Repose is the most complete collection and structure to Lia Kohl’s keen integration and emphasis on “radio sounds.” If you’re looking for a larger lineage that this fits into, well you could point to the Books aleatoric collages as your grand starting line for this style of 21st century composition. Although I’d prefer to keep things small scale, and it so happens that Kohl slides nicely between a small group of frequencies traverses–your Bridgette Bardon’ts, Hali Palombos, and Rrill Bells. All of these artists have in the past few years worked in using radio as a vessel to convey broken connections, rejuvenate sudden archived memories, and present sudden bright blips that are caught in the ether before they disappear. All of these soundsmiths are careful not to romanticize the radio and their trawled recordings and enshrine the shebang with a talismanic quality; they seek to use it as a roadmap to reinforce their own truths. The same way one may take a jar of fortune cookie titles and convert them to lyrics. Kohl’s usage of the radio is additive in nature; constructing a new, exponential effect and character to the chamber music when it appears within her own cello soundscapes. If classical music struggles to find an audience outside of aficionados, then it’s probably because the radio rarely fails to transmit releases like this, the kinds that are human and impart a meta-characteristic to the state of affairs.
The Ceiling Reposes is delicate, modern classical music; the kind that can lumber with a tight-wire balance or drone in C as if it walks on water; the kind that should be championed from the broadcast peaks of a radio transmitter. Kohl’s concocted a particularly meditative chi within her cello (while also using synths, vocal loops, the kazoo, a wind machine, piano keys, and of course percussive flickers) that shimmers and stretches, using the radio to soothe and create deeper grooves, melodies, or counters to the chamber piece itself. There’s an inkling of a komische zones across opener “in a specific room,” a space that welcomes in Bobby Vinton to both point to the a cultural memory, an idea of a peaceful past, that matches the cut to another voice that ensures we don’t know how much time we have left. “sit on the floor and wait for storms” buzzes like bees and fridge hum, taking the cello towards a contemplative, ruminative slow(core’d) and reverberarted direction as the radio cautions of a snow storm approaching. “when glass is there, and water” is the highlight of the A-side, a piece that takes the finger-picking abstraction of Kohl’s cello playing and marries it to a reverent chorus that continues to ebb and flow with the pacing of waves upon the lake, until all that is left are layers of metallic strings and their peaceful glide. The kind that invokes birdsong and spring splendor. All of these pieces see Kohl furthering ambience and chamber music into a tangible recollections one can place themselves in. It’s open, utilitarian music that recalls Chicago’s post-rock rumblings at the turn of the century.
And I feel comfortable saying that because “or things maybe dropping” invokes late 90s Gastr del Sol during their chamber period. The piece meshes well with their old Christmas standard. Yet, the composition unlocks a kinetic, flow-state quality as an off-kilter drum beat, stoned sax, and wistful synths/wind create an almost-pop ambience; one that unfurls into piano chamber music that comes from another room over. It walks and moves akin to a human jumping between Sunday routines. “the moment a zipper” is the closet Kohl has come to straight electroacoustic David Behrman compositions, with a synthesizer bleeping and responding to the cello akin to Kim-1; the tone’s immaculate splendor imparting a bittersweet nostalgia. The piece becomes essential to the tinkles and sizzles of the B-Side, a side sequenced towards a freer sense of sound that reaches for trance or crescendoes; the kinds that have become entangled in Rachika Nayar’s work as of late. “became daily today” strongly alludes to the pop potential of this sound. Crystalline keys loop and the crackle and frizzle of the radio rushes towards a connection, an emotional peak for the album. The brief denouement, “like time (pretending it had a human body),” flashes and bleeps it’s way out akin to Moon Glyph’s psychedelic acid test ambience. And as the tape ends, you’re left a little lighter and fleeter on your feet, having ruminated on Kohl’s deft union of chamber music to the megahertz and the friendly aberrations it brings forth.
Limited Edition Cassette (with Balloon) Available at the American Dreams Bandcamp Page
Been hearing a lot about new benchmarks in power pop lately, mostly from bands that seemingly don’t understand that there are two end points on the power pop spectrum: sticky sweet hooks and guitar riffs that make me want to jump off my couch while windmilling. Sometimes a band just gets it. TV Repairmann has figured out that “what if all those 90s bands that claimed to be influenced by Big Star were fronted by a snotty punk guy” is the ultimate formula for power pop success. What’s On TV? is Exploding Hearts for a generation of bedroom Tascam punks and it’s also the tape I’ve ended up playing the most this year so far. Perfect for cooking chicken thighs, making salads, and sending mindless e-mails.
While Repairmann’s (real name: Ishka Edmeades, but isn’t it funnier to call him Mr. Repairmann?) other bands like Gee Tee, Research Reactor Corp., and Satanic Togas aim to wallop the listener over the head with brash punk or steamroll them flat with sheer speed, What’s On TV? actually cares to take its time and be a little sweeter. What’s On TV? provides the best ratio of hooks to dollars spent that any tape has ever provided me, starting with the pining “Out of Order” and not letting up until “No Life on This Street”’s glammy gutter punk. “Get Outta Here” feels like a blown out lost radio classic, all AM radio hooks crunchy guitars. It’s a summation of what Repairmann does best on his solo work: ultimate sunny day anthems with just a hint of melancholy, filtered through tape hiss and cranked up loud.
The vocals, guitars, and songwriting hit the bullseye in the Venn diagram of “simple” and “effective.” Fans of Gee Tee will feel absolutely at home here amidst monophonic synths and whip crack drum rolls, but where other homespun punk projects like that tend to make themselves small, TV Repairmann goes big. This is music for sensitive punks who aren’t afraid to rock. That seems like it could be a backhanded compliment, but it’s the mode I’ve found myself the most in this year.
“Backwards” is the single best song I’ve ever heard from a lo-fi punk band in a while. Every single aspect of the song, including the opening chiming guitars, is a hook leading to another hook leading to me grinning ear to ear and nodding my head along. I feel like I’m going to wear out my copy because I keep rewinding it over and over again to relive the ascending and descending lead guitar mimicking the “falling down” lyrical motif. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. What’s On TV? is another huge win for Edmeades and Total Punk Records – a match made in punk heaven.
Tongue Depressor & Weston Olencki – Don’t Tell No Tales Upon Us
3.13.23 by Matty McPherson
Dinzu Artefacts continues batch processing and curating of the highest magnitude. New titles in the month of February have been making their way to the hi-fi. In between bouts of anime and Bandcamp tape filing (have you ever tried to catalog DIY tapes? It’s sort of impossible! And you can’t make entries on the mobile app! Flop-ass software!), I have been giving late night samples. The three this month are deep longforms. Two are pushing near or past the hour mark. If there’s anything I’ve noted about a Dinzu Artefacts bundle, it’s that the variety with time often means either the LONGEST or the SHORTEST tape of the month is highlight; a most unusual circumstance akin to picking sticks. This time, I find myself most enamored with the latest from the Tongue Depressor duo & their collaboration with Weston Olencki; a brevity-laden affair of drone harmonics. The kind that glistens at the witching hour and ignite a strange set of surrealist mantras and images to go inward, before returning outward with force.
Henry Birdesy and Zach Rowden are longtime conspirators, with ties down the New England coast and with Crazy Doberman, amongst a longstanding career of dronery as Tongue Depressor. Birdsey’s career across a magnitude of labels, monikers, and instrumentation has seen him develop a rather strange beckoning towards a kind of land-art induced gospel for masses between 1 to a few dozen folks. For the two piece, Birdsey turns to Bagpipes & Rowden takes up Bass. Meanwhile, the South Carolina born, Berlin-based Olencki brings out Trombone. Try to make sense of this formation, it’s not supposed to be a crystal clear harmony in ultraviolet you may tell.
The trio both enforce and reject the roles of their respective instruments. Side A’s Tapping Season is perhaps TD and Olencki’s standard MO. Tongue Depressor create a blackened tar of a drone, with a viscosity thick as imperial stout. The bagpipes harmonize with a thrilling electricity to their harmonics, an all out assault bolstered by the bass! Olencki takes to the wall of sound and attempts to find a place to scowl and grovel with the trombone, creating a cracks across the surface of the piece. You can opt to follow the noise or lay awash in the drone and strike a pre-conscious image from there.
If Death Be Printed On His Face opens the palette outward instead of the intense inward focus of Side A. There’s droning cassette loops that are plague-stricken and gloomed amongst a flicker of water. Coils and sawblades, even creaky gates(!) rummage amongst the wastes of this soundscape, rustling and looming omnipotently. It recalls the bad-acid psychedelic beaches that have come to define Bill Nace’s 2020s works, or gloomscapes of Arvo Zylo and German Army. A banjo is summoned, but so taken out of its immediate sonic properties it only adds to the apocalypse of the b-side; it sounds closer to pedal steel wobbling and budging through a stomachache. When you do zoom out of the piece, considering the slow lumbers of it’s movement instead of the moment-by-moment blows that make it a hat trick of a sprawling piece, it’s clear to see that the trio was creating an inverse to the drone of their first half; especially when it strips itself halfway through to open those stringed drones. There’s an aching beauty to that back half I’ve found. The kind that document the emotions of a cowboy who’s “too old for this shit” and wants to ride off into the sunset, but also knows that with the heat-death of the sun approaching sooner and sooner, it’s just more convenient to soak in the moment. Nothing cruel about it, just ruthless pragmatism.
And that’s what perhaps makes the trio’s release so damn rewarding and the highlight of the the Dinzu Artefacts batch. It cuts to the heart of the label’s strange tightrope walk between “free jazz” and “free field recordings”; the grey area/no man’s land where soundscapes exist as small zones to contemplate feelings that aren’t exactly compressible nor can be abstracted. They’re just experienced like old tales from times long ago.
Limited Edition of 200 Available Now at the Dinzu Artefacts Bandcamp!
I had to call out sick to work last Saturday. I genuinely don’t like doing that, but for about the past year I’ve been having repeated bouts of Sciatica in the lower left side of my body; I was limping out in socks at 5pm and straight up unable to bend down and pick up a King of the Hill DVD I dropped later that night. When you are 24 years old, this shit wrecks you. Trying to pinpoint the triggers that start the cycles, the recovery routines that work, and the mobility patterns that uphold stability have become mental focuses crucial to my ability to navigate the world; the feeling of what’s going on and what could happen in the span of a few hours can mean the world to me. One thing that I know works is the hot water and jets of a jacuzzi. Water revealed a talismanic quality in that it seems to loosen and shift my joints in the worst bouts.
About this time last year, I found myself suddenly tuned towards a rather unique EP release from Nyokabi Kariuki. There were numerous reasons why I found something to latch onto with Peace Places: Kenyan Memories. Firstly, Kariuki was born the same year I was and has lived a completely different, spatially omnibus life; one cut between family in Kenya and the US east coast. The title alone was enough to reinforce this, the sense of a different space from my own. Secondly, the EP had a strong sense of personhood that was less reliant on synthesizers than traditional instrumentation and field recordings. Kariuki was legitimately moving beyond just merely recording utilitarian spatial music and seemed to be breaking the fourth wall to deliver a personal truth, a situated knowledge that this style of ambient often waves and hints at but often fails to deliver. Kariuki had an incredible mastery of analog elements that sought to inform a listener “you can escape your Leibnizian monadic lifestyle if you take stock of the surroundings around you.” And it really liked water!
Kariuki’s sudden turnaround–this time for a “debut album” on cmntx records, FEELING BODY, solely released on tape right now–struck me hard when I heard it last month. As far as C32s run, this is a brutally efficient, deeply precocious open book listen (and yes, there is a book edition shipping with the tape). Returning to Peace Places after listening to FEELING BODY, what strikes me is the space, the open zone quality to these field recordings, often tied together by water. She is building off of the immense space and vagueness of that enticing release, but Kariuki has turned deeply inward.
There is a small, but burgeoning reaction to long COVID showing up in a handful of releases on Bandcamp. When I talked to Paul Dickow (Strategy) last fall, Dickow revealed that he had been working through long COVID and the fatigue the onset produces. Dickow’s latest Strategy releases have not quite responded to this temporal fatigue if only because they were developed over the last decade before this disease existed. FEELING BODY makes it rather clear in its Bandcamp notes that this is a long COVID album–and Kariuki has recovered from it to a manageable level. This shift inward is a purposeful reaction to trying to pinpoint the resonance, the feelings of a body in a moment of catatonic chronic illness. Documenting that is a radically vulnerable task, as much as an incredible display of finding healing in novel capacities; cycling for the right sounds, the necessary mantras, and the otherworldly spaces that a mind can imagine outside the pain it finds itself in.
FEELING BODY is not much different than its predecessor. 6 tracks running slightly longer, albeit this time the title track is a whopping 12 minutes; instrumentation is less regionally diverse, but still focuses on a chamber set (from bass to violin and now trumpet) amongst delicate vocal harmony that radiates its own unique ambience. It’s a greater focus in classical composition that allows Kariuki to tell her story in manner while experimenting Opener “Subira” is built off of those vocal harmonies and glacial pauses akin to a breathing exercise. One that welcomes you while coming to terms with a deft truth “your recovery may take longer than you think.” Yet, herein lies a promise of recovery and a shift to a new understanding of the body.
The 12-minute title track that follows is amongst the most adventurous compositions so far this year. There’s a return to the motif of water that shifts in pace and tension throughout the piece; yet the quality is that of a drippier, more hypnotic texture. There’s a subconscious dive across the track. Her vocal production leans towards that of ASMR-defusion and immediate focus. If it can drift peacefully, it’s amongst faint clouds of vocals that sound akin to harmonic engine whistles. Yet, there’s a stress and tension to the opening fourth; tightrope strings that want to collapse on themselves. It culminates in one moment Kariuki considers the dissociation of how her body may feel for a while. It’s enough to create a beckoning, fleet feeling in its back third; radiant horns and bird sounds amongst the harmonic chorus, a euphoric spring.
Side B’s “fire head’ recalls recent text-to-speech works of Lucy Liyou. Kariuki fucks with the voice as if to prime the listener to a buzzing, not-quite temporally tuned mind. The repetition becomes a storm in itself, lashing and gaining a BPM as Michael Denis Ó Callaghan’s horn races to an unsettling, sublime climax. “quiet face” is a duet between the violin and its feedback and Kariuki’s haunted, dissociated voice that seems to wander across in search in the silence. When it finds itself out of that black hole, “folds” creates a sense of stately dread from what seems to be an insect rustle, that Kariuki defuses with an operatic lullaby and clarinet; it feels of a narcotized pop that’s been missing dearly, especially as her voice approaches a vaudevillian dream. Its low drone, functions akin to a detente, disarming all the while.
“Nazama” (“I sink” in Swahili), the only other track capitalized outside the opener, reintroduces the water motif. One that returns faintly but noticeably at the end as Kariuki seems to surrender into the water and its potential for healing. It ends the tape on an empowering note that reveals a pertinent resolution.
Edition of 100 Available at the cmntx Records Bandcamp Page
I’m not on Bandcamp’s Tape Label Report. In my opinion, the whole thing exists as a ghetto to allow a handful of writers to say “wow look at this label” without really ever getting into the meat of the whole thing. It’s publicity for small endeavors, which is always a good thing I believe, although it also feels like you’ve got writers taking a nominal fee to either a) tell you a label with 400 releases is “really cool” (see Marc Masters writing about Already Dead, which seriously dismayed me in how it boiled Muave down to far too few words with a limited perspective) or b) tell you a label with 5 releases and a barely defined aesthetic is “the next big thing.” This is borderline windowshopping “scene celebrates itself” shenanigans I see all the time in San Diego beer journalism, except it is online on the Epic Games owned website that’ll now have a radio station in Fortnite. As such, I rarely feel like i’ve learned anything at the end of the day or found a new salience. Why do these labels being highlighted…matter?
In truth, move beyond my my finger wagging and bellyaching above. If you want to figure why something matters, well you should go out and find for yourself! Such was the case I found myself with Island House. Self-described as “a little label based on a little island in the East river,” run by a cool dad who’s a self-described member of the post-wook revolution and has released to this day…9 releases.
But it is with a light heart that I can say the 9 releases are THAT terrific; against the grain, what Tim McManus is curating has legitimate heat and stakes. He “started [the label] in 2022 at the behest of his guitar teacher and online friends,” which again perhaps explains how Island House probably made some absolutely insane mogul moves so early on. Getting Steve Rosborough of Moon Glyph to do art on your first release is a power play. Having M. Geddes Gengras, Jeff Tobias, and Jen Powers of Astral Editions write liner notes are also huge net gains. He has European Distribution for select titles. At release 5 Island House did a comp where 37.5% of the material was just German Army cuts alongside Andrew Weathers land art + Prana Crafter “going psych mode.” Like pretty much all he needs is just ONE Patrick Shiroishi tape by the year’s end and Island House officially acquires the “American Tape Label Triple Crown Hat Trick” award good mother of god. Maybe Joe WAS right!
Now, I was able to share a lovely phone call with McManus back on Sunday 2/19, as he stepped out of one room where he was staying in the Hudson Valley that weekend, to talk shop about the label. McManus has had quite the past 3 years, both through new fatherhood and slowly taking account of both local rumblings in New York City & the Hudson Valley; he had moved from a tiny apartment in Roosevelt Island out to Harlem when an opportunity for more space presented itself. There were quick, snappy mentions of a new Kent Ave space, 411 not 285, where David Watson’s Shift has taken up space for eclectic arts, as well as the Pit, a space run by Jim McHugh from Sunwatchers. McManus has been going to these shows, clocking names and faces, partially thanks to one extroverted conversation after another started by Zack Hale; all while even jumping into amateur DIY gig booking that included a rather successful donation gig.
McManus’ ties to both the DIY rumblings in NYC and the Hudson have been crucial in garnering the courage and gumption to go deep into his own label. At the moment, Island House would not exist without the immense support and keen ear of people running from those who are booking at the spaces above, Mr. Hale, Ryley Walker, Jeff Tobias, Mike Horn, numerous Twitter mutuals (including one Aquarium Drunkard writer in the city), amongst many others have all played a role in McManus taking the label to this current stage; it’s an era of mutual help and the strength of weak ties being played to its fullest. There’s a wealth of information and resources these folks have tapped into, reinforcing a belief both McManus and myself share, the kind that “any kind of experimental scene that’s not from your normal…that’s where im happy.” McManus is humble though, repeatedly emphasizing during the call “I’m just trying to get the music out there” working with the goodest of good goobers he can afford. CDs may be coming soon, although vinyl is a pipe dream; the expense and sourcing right now is too hard to make the calls for. Oh, and he’s a stay at home dad wrapping up a college degree; I can attest to brief blips of that struggle!
So in 9 releases, as a result of these connections & reception, the label has actually been able to position itself at a stronger advantage than other tape labels I’ve noted. Most notably (and centering everything), there’s the tape j-card art. While the Steve Rosborough design of IH-001, a Seawind of Battery release, was a one-off (planned to be reissued to match the current aesthetic), McManus quickly sought inspiration and design aesthetics from Astral Spirits. As such, Island House quickly sorted out a design that allows for artists to submit their own art, while also keeping a uniform “peachy” label. Such is going to standout, especially when Island House has taken the bold steps to garner European, Australian, South African, and even Japanese distribution in varied capacities (one tape even made it’s way to Palace Music HQ). Tapes down there that quickly? Well, McManus is going a day at a time though, as he considers which release is next on the docket, who’s to pen the liner notes, and just what kind of local community he wants to spring from Island House. The roster right now stands as a result of a web of connections and admiration; for example, it was J. Moss of the Modern Folk who was the one who shepherded that aforementioned compilation to the label for last year. Two releases down the line set for spring are to feature…vocals! McManus is wagering they may have a stronger reach than the instrumental folk sounds the label has chased so far.
As such, it explain how Island House has been able to practically blast off in under 9 months. A wealth of connections, ample good will, and most necessarily, the space and (personal) time to take on this endeavor have given McManus’ label a chip on its shoulder. To me, Island House is the timeless story of DIY being played out in the best of ways: someone realizing they can be their own curator and documenter, using a web of connections to jump into the fray, and going one release at a time. We’ve lost some great labels over the past two years: Ingrown Records had to shut down due to life changes, FTAM finally decided to close up shop as Peter Woods moves across the pond to teach in academia; meanwhile, Garden Portal’s terminal hiatus doesn’t exactly inspire hope for what the Athens, GA maverick’s trajectory is. Yet, what I’ve listed above gives me ample hope that McManus has picked up that torch and will hopefully continue to ignite happenings around the Hudson, NYC, and far around the globe for as long as possible.
Anyways, here’s 3 quickies on the January, February, and March releases.
David Cedolin – Ligurian Pastoral
Genova, Italy-based Davide Cedolin brought Island House into 2023 with Ligurian Pastoral, an acoustic guitar release with the harmonic potency of sounding akin to being nestled up in the guitar. Half a world away, Cedolin has been settling into the Ligurian region, and Ligurian Pastoral is a tribute to that “tight and bent strip of land between the Ligurian sea and the Apennines mountains”; you could call it a mediterranean climate. The 7 cuts are simple instrumentals that unfurl with brilliant grace; a small drone or reverberation here, a touching astral projections from Seawind of Battery on cuts 2 & 7 there, a gorgeous litany of rustic harmonies at every turn. For a Pat Metheny head, you’d probably find a smidgen of jamming here too! Everything works to create a situated response and mapping of Cedolin’s current homestead, while also leaving an incredible amount of space for pondering and considering. This tape is autobiographical after all, refractions of daily routines, faces, and landmarks that words often falter when attempting to explain the gracefulness of; the vibe is something that you make of it. This winter, San Diego county has had a bounty of storms this winter. Ones that which our rapidly disappearing (see the word “aridification”) Mediterranean climate glisten back to life for brief spurts. When I listen to this tape, all I see are outside are a rainbow of greens, my own pastoral that that this tape gives me thanks for.
Emergency Group – Inspection of Cruelty
The quartet of Robert Boston (keys), Andreas Brade (drums), Jonathan Byerley (guitar), and Dave Mandi (bass) sat down on November 2nd, 2022. This is what followed. And what was that exactly? A 46 minute krautjam rock sesh, one held together by motorik drumming and an absolutely free-wheeling sense of open armed love and magic. Of the three releases spotlighted here, Inspection of Cruelty, is the deepest of deep zoning sessions the label has provided to date. The two parts of Inspection of Cruelty are ample enough to work on their own without the connecting piece, yet taken together you have an ample piece that sees each member figure their own aura. Over the course of the 46 minutes, each player is offered ample time to excel at a solo moment as their brethren tune down and lower their instruments either to a one-track mindset or fade out entirely. What results is a fully-fleshed, breathing document of the Emergency Group. In its best moments, Mandi holds down a bass groove, Brade locks into a cymbal rush or lays down a new fill-line, and Boston cranks out key noise or Byerly takes the guitar and wails. Or…they just enter that Autobahn cruise mode where you ride a riff out because it just sounds so goddamn pleasing and flush with flavor. Inspection of Cruelty is not going to create any new krautrockheads, but more or less just confirm how deep of one you already are if you’ve made it this far.
Joseph Allred – For the Fallen Dawn (to be released… soon!)
A tape of acoustic guitar (not quite, there’s more than one stringed instrument)? Takoma school indebted (perhaps, have you seen his CV)? Featuring a poem by Jen Powers (they’re label alum after all)? Are we sure this wasn’t an Astral Edition?! No no! For the Fallen Dawn is a continuation of Joseph Allred’s slick guitar acoustics and natural ambience that have been featured from Garden Portal to Scissor Tail and even Feeding Tube; he’s not exactly a celebrity, although you garner the sense Allred’s style is “discogs bait price” worthy as many of his tapes have become collectables. For the Fallen Dawn has the same pleasure that I found when I was deep into Ross Hammond’s brilliant cassette for Full Spectrum last year. Over 36 minutes, Allred plays to the night sky and ambience of the local crickets and rustling critters in the bushes. 8 cuts are split between 2 modes: short snippets, duets meant to bring in space for the ambience to fulfill and counter, amongst wild sprawling 7-9 minute guitar epics that contain all the stoicism a mighty fine 10 gallon hat can afford. The pleasure are simple and ample, overflowing even as Allred unites strains of country and folk into a sprawling psychedelic vision of his own accord. Ladysthumb and None Are Born or Die are favorites, cunning moments where he launches into an acoustic freakout that sends a jolt to my system.
With all this talk of defiant jazz, I can’t help but thinking that Brooklyn’s Multiform Palace is riding the crest of the wave into eternal success. You can’t fault anyone for doing such a thing; you grab a hook, you make that hook work itself into everyone’s subconscious, until you’re just walking down the street one day and every jerk on the block is humming the hook you came up with. It’s an absolutely foolproof, solid gold, #1 business plan for the aspiring musician to follow. Can’t fail. Eternal success.
Multiform Palace feels like the perfect conduit for a defiant jazz typhoon. Cutting and pasting (which is called “sampling” to those of you who venture beyond Microsoft Word) from generously hooky sources (none of which I’m at liberty to divulge, if in fact I knew what they were), Multiform Palace slow-cooks a head-nodding jam sesh and lets it marinate in the tape deck in the sun. What results is a generously basted and righteously smeared kaleido-topia, famously crackling with the sharpest beats. It comes off as something that SHOULD be on the 100% Bootleg label, right next to the latest Mid-Air! joint.
Adding a little EXTRA defiance is the fact that Multiform Palace got “voices, ideas, and inspiration” from The Guerilla Art Action Group’s 1970 action interview on WBAI radio (which has actually been released on vinyl). Read a little bit about their works “Blood Bath” and “And Babies” in protest of the Vietnam War and the MoMA board’s complicity in and ties to companies involved as proponents of it. As our friend Dr. Peter J. Woods is fond of saying, FTAM! (I think that means something against art museums, and there’s a bad word in there somewhere.)
There was a point before my decent headphones broke and the holidays happened and it was suddenly the middle of February. It was a sunsoaked November day before Thanksgiving and I had to leave the house; I needed a book I had spotted a week earlier in Berkeley that I knew was only a bus trip away. I had been on something of a Scarcity kick around that time, with a burgeoning interest in Aveilut’s symphonic characteristics that often pushed the music out of black metal and into straight gothic industrial noise scowling. There was a thought line and even immense nods to downtown music that I was inkling with more than approaching it from straight black metal tropes. It reinforced a personal belief that the fidelity and speed of the tape are second to the pure underlying riffage and unique displays of intensely carnal visions. That is when I mend with black metal in the present.
I was a bit dazed I’ll admit, especially when I had finally taken a dive into Genital Shame’s Lion Piss + Arm Vulnerability cassingle/EP type beat. When I heard it back then I was gripped by the ambience, a different intensity outside of immediate black metal sound aesthetics that gave me something to grip on to. For, West Virginian Erin Dawson and her C15 is a concise, deft batch of homespun cuts that display a sound palette that is not so much as going full into black metal, but seeing it in a larger tapestry that connects to varying intensities of Dawson’s own endeavors in her life. To make this music is a personal project and approach it from this manner can be seen as a critique, but that can often miss reveling in the noise of a singular entity so esteemed and precise and Dawson.
Her sound is still perhaps assuming an evolved form beyond what we have been left with today. This is not appalachian folk-tinged black metal, nor symphonic black metal, nor blackened pop metal; Dawson’s 3 cuts err closer to though to the revolutionary “last flag standing” apocalypse worlds of Constellation Records. The emphasis on acoustic guitar (specifically during the final cut) put it more towards Mt. Silver Zion’s somber soundscapes, with tingles of the raw catharsis that has always defined Efrim. However, both Gnostienne and Ego non sum trust-fund puer recall the work of the sorely missed Lungbuter–not exactly a metal outfit mind you, but an absolute wonder trio when it came to fuzz. And across those swift blast beats and moments of jagged droned out ambience, there’s a lotta fuzz on the hi-fi. And yet, these 3 cuts all retains a carnal, jagged vision that also entices and invites comparison towards code-breakers (Liturgy), agnostics (Sprain), and revolutionary spirits (Agriculture) without playing to black metal trope adherently. Needless to say, it fits well with that weird lineup of Flenser tapes I’ve started to amass, and is quite pretty as the newest Pink Tape in the collection.
The tape sat in a holding cell without much of a second consideration of when to revisit or WHY NOT revisit it daily. I’ve re-opened the tape for the first time in a few moths and I’m still entranced by it’s simplicity. More than a mere proof of concept, Genital Shame’s “Lion Piss + Arm Vulnerability” is a staunchly gripping introduction to Dawson’s work. From its snarled swagger to acoustic vulnerability, whatever she’s cooking with down the line is to be of consideration.
Limited Tape Available at the Genital Shame Bandcamp Page